Friday, 16 November 2007


Providence Bill called it. Now in his 60th year he was glad to be away from his wife. The had spent the best part of 40 years together, in each others pockets, ‘joined at the hip,’ Alison said.
In his twenties when they first met her liked the feeling of a woman on his arm, a constant companion.
Now the airline had seated them two rows apart and he liked the idea. He shrugged his shoulders when Alison found out they weren’t together. Never one to make waves he took it as providence. Alison was all for insisting to a change but he said to ‘just let it be’.
She’d been in the toilet at the time of check in and he just handed up the envelope with his ticket, she had her own in her handbag. They always carried their own I.D. ‘in case of theft,’ Alison said. Then at least we don’t loose it all at once. He saw the sense in that logic and so they looked after their own documents. When she came back to the queue his seat had already been allocated. It wasn’t intentional, just one of those things. Alison shot him a look and Bill knew that look. Over the years it had developed from a frown of disbelief to an exasperated scowl to these days one of contempt.
He didn’t think she despised him, but there was the air of just tolerable, in everything he did. Sometimes Bill wondered why they were still together, how they hadn’t separated long ago was an enduring mystery for him. He mused that they had separated years before when their conversation stopped, and just the talk of perfunctory motions took its place. She never tried hard and neither did he, they just carried on with living. He didn’t mind the slip, it was the easiest way out of having to make an effort. Alison would say "Better the devil you know," and Bill thought this was only part of the answer. He had day dreams sometimes when he fell asleep in front of the television. He would dream he woke up from sleep and he had never been married. When Alison prodded him for snoring, the image would be replaced by the wedding photo on the cabinet, and the over stuffed cushions on the settee. He realized he stayed because of a sense of loyalty. In the dark hours when he lay in bed he would think about such things. Loyalty was important to Bill. He took a pride in his steadfastness to Alison and to his few friends. Yet his loyalty wasn’t a devotion to duty. That sounded like a job to be done.
Earlier in his life people would say they were devoted to one another. Alison would carry that word around like a martyr. She was good at playing the victim, the martyr. Bill learned early on to ignore her charade but that didn’t stop Alison.
As they shuffled in silence down the isle to their allocated seats Bill suddenly felt released. Some on e had given him permission to be by himself. He felt he could be Bill instead of Bill and Alison Meade.
He counted the rows as he walked knowing he didn’t have to talk or eat her left overs or acquiesce about the window seat. 29, 30,31 E. He saw his seat at the window and knew it was just for him. At this point he should have shot Alison one last glance but he decided against it. He averted his gaze, knowing if he looked up he would be caught in the Martyrdom of Alison Meade. Sitting down he could feel her steely glare on the top of his bald head. It burned like sunburn, but he busied himself with the seat belt and the safety instructions. This trip was her idea. Alison decided that they would visit their daughter in Sydney and at the same time ‘killing two birds with one stone’ they could take in the half yearly clearance sales. He might have protested, said he didn’t enjoy shopping or to be frank the company of his daughter. But it was easier just to ‘go with the flow’ as Alison used to say. His daughter had become a stranger in the years she had lived away from them. Alison liked her daughter’s life better than her own and relished all the details. Bill saw his daughter slowly grow to distance herself from the mediocre and the mundane suburbs of her youth. They were strangers now, and had nothing in common except DNA.
Bill sat back in his seat and looked at the two empty seats next to him. A smile crept upon his face and he brought his hand up to his lips, the feeling was such a rare occurrence he needed tactile conformation that it was happening. A phrump interrupted him as the seat next to him was taken up with a heavy man of indiscernible age. Bill nodded and right away the man in 31 D began to chat. From what Bill could gather he was going to see his ailing father after a long absence. He wasn’t looking forward to it knowing it would be the last time before his father died. How do you say goodbye to someone knowing they still have a few years left? The seatbelt sign came on as 31 C was occupied. The woman was young and pretty and clearly flustered. She busied herself with luggage and cardigan and drink bottle, staking her claim to her bit of space. They all sat silently as the safety instruction video was played, but Bill wasn’t watching. He was thinking about that 31D had said. How do you say goodbye to someone knowing they still have a few years left? He tried to imagine. He played a scenario out in his mind of saying goodbye to Alison. To just get off the plane and walk away. She needed the house, the car, the clothes, the cats, What did he need? What indeed did he want?
He tried to think about what he wanted. As a person of one. It wasn’t easy. Every decision up till now had to include Alison. He always took her into consideration. Bill closed his eyes, only to open them suddenly when 31D put his hand on his arm A reassurance was given about flying and to take deep breaths. Bill realized his meditation would seem like fright to anyone else. Then perhaps his face did have a look of fright, knowing he was thinking the unthinkable. That he even dared to think it was proof enough that he still had cognitive thought as an individual. How easy would it be to walk away? He began to see the last years as a noose. Slowly tightening around his neck until he was unable to breathe, to utter a sound in protest. He took a deep breath and 31D nodded in approval.
"It will all be over soon," 31D said. Bill thought those words prophetic. He reiterated them like a mantra, ‘it will all be over soon’. That was what he wanted. For it to be over. To begin again. To start afresh. He knew he could do it. He would will himself into action. The power of positive thinking. He could see a life without Alison. Years of habitually thinking of someone else could be swept away. He could almost use the word selfish, but there were better adjectives to describe his new situation. Independent was a good start. Stridently individual was the way he wanted to be seen. He smiled to himself. It could work, it could happen. He could make it happen. He saw the airline logo and thanked Qantas for giving him a new life. A chance to be himself.
31D leaned over and began to chat. "Are you married?"
Bill studied the question in the split second it took to reply.
"Yes" he said, "my wife is two rows back" 31D offered to swap, so that they could be joined at the hip and Bill surprised himself with the answer.
"No, not necessary, no fuss, really it’s ok" There was a feeling of victory in his words. Bill had slayed his dragon. There was no blood, no thrashing in the death throes, just a clean quick kill.
He chatted, he laughed, he relaxed and enjoyed himself. It felt good. When the plane landed he knew what he had to do. He had planned his next move.
The seat belt sign came on and they stared to descend. Bill knew it was the beginning, his beginning.
They taxied to a halt and everyone stood up. He remained seated. The other passengers were shuffling down the isle and getting off. He saw Alison walk past and bent down to tie his shoelace. He knew she was looking but he refused to be drawn into her gaze. After a few minutes he filed out with the stragglers.
"Thank you for flying with us" the hostess said.
"No, thank you" Bill said enthusiastically.
Alison wasn’t waiting for him as he entered the terminal, she would have gone straight to the luggage carousel. He dallied and lingered and then went to the baggage claim.
It was packed with people and he panicked for a second as he tried to find Alison. Standing on the balcony he scanned the crowd and then he saw her. She expected him to tag along behind. Always had, like a dog, he supposed. She wasn’t looking for him, she only had eyes for the hole in the wall. All the passengers looked to that one portal. Like prayer Bill thought. Hoping, wishing for their prayers to be answered. Alison was praying. The bags started to arrive and the concentration was thick in the air. Bill was enjoying the moment, knowing he could turn and walk away, whenever he felt so inclined. He watched Alison with a detachment one usually reserves for strangers.
She wasn’t a handsome woman, 58 years old, grey around the temples and thin. He often thought she could snap like a chicken bone if she fell, but she was strong. Her face was lined from years of scowling and frustration, usually associated with him. She dressed sensibly and without fuss. Someone who belongs in a supermarket Bill thought. To blend in with the apples and sliced meats. Nothing particularly striking about Alison caught his eye. Her case arrived and she eagerly grabbed at it hauling it up like a fisherman hauls up his nets. Then she turned. She began to look for Bill. He saw her look of disapproval, then concentration.
He saw her look far into the crowd searching, scanning, computing all the information and he knew she was forming the tirade of words in her mind. The smothering of disdain which would silence his apology should he try to give one.
Then Alison bit her lower lip and frowned. She stood on tiptoe and looked to be a bit frantic. She stood on her case to get a better view. She stood still watching the crowd thin as they took their bags away. Bill watched her until she was the only one left and it was just his bag going around and around, a 3 minute reminder of who wasn’t there. Still Alison stood on her bag. She seemed rooted to the spot. Bill watched her torment as the truth dawned. She stepped down and sat on her case. Then she began to cry. Her shoulders heaved as she silently sobbed. He hadn’t seen her vulnerable side, for years. She looked like a lost child.
He knew what he had to do. He knew it would take an iron will, the strength of 10 men. He remembered the power of positive thinking. And yet he hesitated. To see Alison weak and vulnerable, to see her with all her humanity laid bare. It was painful to watch, but he was transfixed. He took a deep breath. And the first step.
"Alison" he called "Over here darling"

1 comment:

  1. Owww....I could be this bloke at times! It was a great read. Got all the bits required for suspense and whats gunna happen in the end. Almost disappointed that he went to her but in reality he was probably due all the nagging!!


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